The Observatory has been informed by Banglar Manabadhikar Surksha Mancha (MASUM) about the acts of intimidation and harassment against Arkadeep Goswami, a freelance journalist and research associate at MASUM, since November 2022. As a journalist, Mr Goswami has reported on human rights issues in India, including workers’ rights, prison conditions and the use of India’s draconian laws to suppress dissent. MASUM is a human rights organisation based in Kolkata, West Bengal state, that documents and seeks accountability for human rights violations perpetrated by state security forces along the India-Bangladesh border, particularly by India’s Border Security Force (BSF).
On April 18, 2023, at around 3pm, two individuals arrived at Mr Goswami’s house in Kolkata, where he lives with his parents, told them they were friends with Mr Goswami, and requested to see him. As he was not at home, the two individuals asked his mother to call Mr Goswami. During the call, they refused to reveal their identity and addresses, and repeatedly questioned Mr Goswami about his whereabouts and when he was planning to return home. Following Mr Goswami’s refusal to share any information with them, they told him: “So you won’t talk to us? OK, we will see you”. After that, one of the individuals identified himself as Sandipan Mondal, and told Mr Goswami they had met in 2022 in Barikul Police Station, Bankura district, West Bengal state, where Mr Goswami had been arbitrarily detained for over 45 days. There are therefore reasons to believe that the two individuals were members of the West Bengal police.
The Observatory notes that on April 24, 2022, Arkadeep Goswami was abducted by officers of the Special Task Force (STF) and Counter Insurgency Force (CIF) of the West Bengal police in Bolpur, Birbhum district, West Bengal state. He was subsequently taken to Barikul Police Station, approximately 160km from Bolpur. He was told that a First Information Report (FIR) had been filed against him on January 27, 2022, under Sections 148, 149, 120B, 121, 121A, 122, 123, and 124A of the Indian Penal Code (“rioting, armed with a deadly weapon”, “unlawful assembly”, “criminal conspiracy”, “waging war against the Government”, “conspiracy to commit offence”, “collecting arms with the intent to wage war against the Government”, “concealing with intent to facilitate design to wage war” and “sedition”, respectively). The STF and CIF officers failed to show an arrest warrant, and Mr Goswami’s relatives were informed about his arrest and place of detention on April 25, 2022. Mr Goswami remained detained under police custody until his release on bail on June 3, 2022. At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, no charge sheet had been filed against Mr Goswami, and investigations were ongoing.
The Observatory further notes that on November 12, 2018, Mr Goswami was arrested by West Bengal Police officers in Goaltore, West Midnapore district, West Bengal state, following a fact-finding mission he conducted along with three other individuals in Jangalmahal, West Bengal state, to document criminal cases brought against villagers and tribal communities members in the framework of a police operation against alleged Maoists in the region in 2009 and 2010.
An FIR was filed against Mr Goswami under Sections 149, 120B, 121, 121A, 123, and 124A of the Indian Penal Code (“unlawful assembly”, “criminal conspiracy”, “waging war against the government”, “conspiracy to commit offence”, “concealing with intent to facilitate design to wage war” and “sedition”, respectively).
On November 14, 2018, he was produced before a magistrate, in breach of Article 22 (2) of the Constitution of India, which establishes that any arrested person must be produced before a magistrate within a period of 24 hours of such arrest. The judge ordered his detention under police custody at the Goaltore Police Station for 14 days, after which he was transferred to Midnapore Central Correctional Home, West Bengal State. On February 12, 2019, he was released on bail. At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, no charge sheet had been filed against Mr Goswami under this case, and investigations were ongoing.
The Observatory condemns the acts of harassment against Arkadeep Goswami, which seem to be only aimed at intimidating him. The Observatory further condemns the above-mentioned criminal investigations opened against him, as they seem to be aimed at deterring him from carrying out his peaceful and legitimate human rights work. These attacks against Mr Goswami are not isolated incidents but are framed in a pattern of harassment against MASUM members as well as against their relatives, including regular intimidation by police officers, criminal investigations and threats.
The Observatory urges the authorities to put an immediate end to all acts of intimidation, criminalisation and harassment, including at the judicial level, against Arkadeep Goswami and all MASUM members, including by closing all criminal investigations against them.
The Observatory further urges the authorities to guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Arkadeep Goswami and all MASUM members, and protect and respect their rights to seek, obtain, and hold information about human rights, and advocate and seek accountability for human rights violations perpetrated by individual officials and governmental bodies, including the BSF.
Please write to the authorities of India, asking them to:
- Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Arkadeep Goswami , all MASUM members, and all human rights defenders in India;
- Close all criminal investigations against Arkadeep Goswami and put an an end to all acts of intimidation and harassment – including at the judicial level – against him, all MASUM members, and all human rights defenders in India, and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals in all circumstances;
- Immediately put an end to the use of repressive laws to target human rights defenders, including Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, and ensure its compliance with international human rights standards.
- Mr. Narendra Damodardas Modi, Prime Minister of India, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @narendramodi
- Mr. Amit Shah, Union Minister of Home Affairs of India, Email: email@example.com, Twitter: @AmitShah
- Mr. Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs of India, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mr. D. Y. Chandrachud, Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court of India, Email: email@example.com
- Mr. Shri Devendra Kumar Singh, IAS, Secretary General Chief Executive Officer
of the National Human Rights Commission of India, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @India_NHRC
- Mr. Indrajeet Kumar, Focal Point on Human Rights Defenders, National Human Rights Commission of India, Email: email@example.com
- H.E. Mr. Indra Mani Pandey, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of India in your respective country.